Holter on the loose

19 October, 2007

'High-strength' ban that sets a dangerous precedent

Sainsbury's Local in Ealing has been granted an alcohol licence after volunteering to ban the sale of "high strength lagers, beers [sic] or ciders" on the premises.

There's nothing wrong with cutting a deal with a zealous police chief or a licensing committee with concerns about street drinking - lots of retailers will put up with an unofficial local ban on superstrengths. But since when has 5.5 per cent abv been the threshold?

The store is now barred from offering speciality beers such as Leffe or Innis & Gunn (6.6 per cent abv), the gorgeous Fuller's 1845 (6.3 per cent abv), or Artois Bock (6.2 per cent abv).

I don't see many of those bottles in the hands of drunken louts, or thrown in streams, playgrounds or front gardens. I can't say the same about Foster's, Stella Artois or Strongbow, to unfairly pick out three perfectly respectable brands, yet the sale of those drinks is considered preferable. Where's the logic?

Demonising beers and ciders that are designed for sipping quietly with a meal, in small quantities, sets a dangerous precedent. Sainsbury's doubtless thinks it has done the responsible thing, but I can guarantee it now has several suppliers who will see things differently.

We're all being watched

The prospect of putting off-licences under surveillance sounds, for want of a better cliché, like something out of George Orwell's 1984.

The idea of undercover Trading Standards spooks covertly filming shops from hidden cameras sends a certain shiver down the spine. But would this really be more insidious than test purchasing?

Test purchasing trips up a lot of good retailers who make innocent mistakes, but doesn't catch the "devious" ones who sell to children they know, according to the Trading Standards Institute. So a targeted, intelligence-led surveillance campaign might be a fairer way of dealing with the problem.

In some areas, of course, it's happening already.

What's the point of Ramsay?

Thresher is apparently considering a new advertising campaign and in my view it is time to drop the ill-conceived link with Gordon Ramsay.

This is a celebrity endorsement that I've always struggled to understand. Does the public associate Gordon Ramsay with wine? Does Gordon Ramsay associate himself with wine? The scowling, larger-than-life window stickers tell us nothing about Thresher's range, but quite a lot about Ramsay's willingness to cash in on his celebrity status while it lasts - and, perhaps, something about the lack of consumer wine icons.

I'm no fan of Ramsay. He may be a great chef, but I have little tolerance of bullies who think they can mask inarticulacy by shouting and swearing. And let's face it ... off-licence staff suffer enough of that sort of thing as it is at the hands of their customers.

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